The night before the No. 17 Washington football team’s 28-14 victory over No. 21 USC Saturday afternoon, head coach Chris Petersen showed boxing videos at the team hotel.
No, really. Boxing videos.
“We knew we were going to take some hits, but we’re going to swing right back,” senior linebacker Kyler Manu said. “That was our statement. You’re going to get a couple plays on us but we’re not going to shy away at all.”
The Huskies (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) answered the bell every time the Trojans (3-2, 2-1 Pac-12) came up with a big play, with the biggest coming in the third quarter. After a big 60-yard run by USC tailback Stephen Carr, the UW defense had its back against the wall with the Trojans just 10 yards away from bringing the game within a score.
Enter Elijah Molden, who recorded his first career interception off an ill-advised throw from Trojan quarterback Matt Fink.
“I just jumped up and then next thing I knew I was running up the sideline celebrating,” Molden said.
The play turned out to be the ultimate swing of momentum that helped the Huskies defeat the Trojans, as two plays later, tailback Salvon Ahmed took a carry 89 yards to the house to extend the UW lead to three touchdowns in the third.
That boxing metaphor could translate to UW’s whole season, as after the loss to California early this season, the Huskies have punched back three straight victories.
Ahmed returned to the Dawgs’ lineup after not traveling to their game against BYU in Provo, Utah to the tune of 153 yards rushing and a touchdown.
Washington did get punched again after Fink found Michael Pittman Jr. deep for a touchdown on the ensuing drive, but then proceeded to shut down the USC offense and keep them off the scoreboard for the rest of the game. Time after time, when the Trojans fought inside the red zone or made a big play, the Huskies responded.
“It’s never over. The fight is never over,” Ahmed said. “This game was obviously down to the wire. It’s never going to be over, so you have to keep going. “They are going to get big plays on us, they are going to score on us, but how do you respond? How many swings are they going to throw before they knock you down? We didn’t get knocked down.”
The Huskies were in a good position yet again off the bat in the first quarter, rushing out to a quick lead after Richard Newton plunged into the end zone on UW’s second offensive drive. On the ensuing Trojan possession, Cameron Williams came up with an interception after a Fink lofted a pass past his receiver, which set up another score.
Washington drove down all the way inside the USC 5-yard line, but disaster nearly struck for the Huskies when Ahmed fumbled at the 1-yard line. The ball, however, fell near the back of the end zone, where receiver Andre Baccellia hopped on it to put the UW up 14-0.
In first quarters so far this season, the Dawgs are outscoring teams 77-3 through five games.
In a game full of twists of momentum and shifts, Petersen’s message seems to have resonated with this team in the long term.
“There’s so many things that happened to us, they played really good, but there’s a lot of things that happened to us that I’m like ‘OK, we’ll get that corrected that’s not going to happen again,’” Petersen said. “But that’s our mission, every week, whatever the score is, what did we learn, and how do we improve?”
Reach Sports Editor Alec Dietz at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @AlecDietz
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